There is no question that education is a powerful driver of prosperity. Americans with college degrees earn 117 percent more a year than those who do not complete high school.1 Based on data for the high school class of 2015, raising the nation’s high school graduation rate from 83 percent to 90 percent would result in an additional $3.1 billion in earnings for each high school cohort, which would translate into a $5.7 billion increase in gross domestic product.2 Moreover, Americans with higher levels of education are more likely to vote,3 to volunteer,4 and to donate to charity.5
But on the whole, the results of the U.S. education system are not where they need to be. Between 2000 and 2017, the United States slipped from fifth to 10th among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in its rate of postsecondary degree attainment.6 America’s 13-year-olds continue to languish in the middle of the pack internationally in math and science achievement. After some hopeful progress in the early 2000s, results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have stagnated in both reading and math.7 Even more alarming, the nation continues to see the effect of systemic and structural barriers to opportunity for Black,8 Latinx, Native American, and some Asian American and Pacific Islander children, not to mention the ongoing segregation and isolation of students from families with low incomes who are locked into under-resourced schools.9 Additionally, it is clear that students with disabilities, students who identify as LGBTQ, and students who are English language learners continue to grapple with added barriers to accessing a quality education.
As the 2020 elections near, the conversation about how to change the direction of the country will gain even more prominence—on education, as well as the many other critical issues Americans are facing. More and more candidates for national office are presenting ideas for how to increase access to high-quality early childhood education and how to make higher education more accessible and affordable. And yet, with a few prominent exceptions, presidential candidates have not yet taken clear positions or staked out big ideas on how to ensure that every child has an excellent school.10 Elementary and secondary schools are where students learn to read, write, do math, and develop the skills, knowledge, and abilities that will make them successful lifelong learners and full participants in U.S. democracy.
What’s more, the public wants a focus on education. In the 2018 midterm elections, it was the second-most frequent topic of campaign ads for governors, with candidates vying to be their state’s “pro-education governor.”11 This year, education ranks third among voters’ top priorities for the president and Congress.12
Although K-12 education historically has not been a driving force in national elections, the nation is in a unique moment in time. Teacher protests and strikes over the past year have catalyzed increased public support for both teachers and for funding public education more broadly.13 Across the country, people are recognizing that after a decade of disinvestment following the Great Recession, the support that students, teachers, and schools need is simply not being provided—and the consequences are evident.
To be sure, part of national policymakers’ hesitation to address K-12 education stems from America’s long tradition of state and local control of schooling, which can be a barrier to the federal government—and the president—becoming highly involved in education. But the federal government has a critical role to play in creating the conditions for equitable access to educational opportunity for every child, regardless of their background.
States and school districts alone simply cannot achieve the goal of providing every student with a high-quality school. The nation’s current system has led to enormous gaps in the resources provided to students based on geography, income, and race. The difference in spending across states is massive, even accounting for varying levels of poverty, regional wages, and other factors. For example, New York spends more than $12,400 more per student than Idaho.14 Only 11 states fund education progressively, by providing more resources to the school districts with the highest levels of poverty. In the rest of the country, the students who need the most actually get the least.15 Even today, local communities are seceding from their larger school districts and exacerbating segregation.16 Unfortunately, U.S. history shows that without a strong federal role, it is all too easy for states and local school districts to perpetuate structural inequality that has existed for generations.
It is also important for future administrations to understand and learn from the lessons of past efforts to reform K-12 education. Through the past several administrations—both Democratic and Republican—there was a general consensus on the key elements of education reform. These elements included standards-based accountability for schools, teacher evaluations based partly on student learning, and the expansion of public school choice options. At the federal and state levels, policymakers and advocates—including the Center for American Progress—pushed for major changes to the education system based on these ideas.
However, over the past few years, these efforts—though in many cases clearly necessary—were proven insufficient. First, despite evidence that standards-based accountability led to modest improvements, these reforms have not led to progress at the pace needed to give every student a fair shot at success in college and career.17 Second, parents and teachers have not seen clear positive impacts from these systemwide reform efforts and, in many cases, have only seen the negative impacts of overtesting,18 narrowing of curriculum,19 frustrated teachers,20 and state disinvestment in education that stretched far beyond the recession.21 What’s more, in too many places, there has been limited input from and engagement with affected communities during the development and implementation of reforms.22
With these lessons in mind, a new education agenda must be rooted in the idea of opportunity for all, with equity in access at the center. This means developing policies in partnership with everyday people, with a lens on how these policies will affect students from historically underserved and under-resourced communities. The focus should be on ensuring that these students receive the greatest benefit, while keeping an eye on every child having a quality seat in public schools.
There is no silver bullet or single idea that will dramatically improve opportunities and outcomes for students, but there are ways that federal policymakers—including the next presidential administration—can take action and set a new agenda for K-12 education. This agenda should focus on five key components:
This report, in turn, takes a detailed look at each of these components.
K-12 education reform has long focused on policies that will improve outcomes for students who are underserved and historically disadvantaged. Now more than ever, it is critical for progressive policy to support the students and families that have been denied opportunity in this country. In particular, policymakers, researchers, and advocates should intentionally apply an explicit race and resource equity lens to all policies and analysis. This means specifically looking at potential impacts on communities that do not identify as white or that have large concentrations of families with low incomes, without conflating the two.
The goal is to forge a path where equity is not merely a trendy concept, but rather one centered in all education policymaking and practice, and where institutional racism is called out as a barrier to forward progress and appropriately addressed. Fortunately, during the current presidential election cycle, there has been an uptick of serious discussion about the debt that the U.S. government owes citizens who continue to face obstacles to achieving the American dream as a result of the lasting effects of enslavement.23 From enacting slave codes to relegating Black residents to particular ZIP codes, American institutions and social networks have denied Black people the basic human right to education and a host of other opportunities—including home ownership, jobs, and voting access—through policy and practice.24 The results show up as a persistent gap in achievement,25 troubling gaps in school discipline,26 and ongoing gaps in college access and completion,27 all of which ultimately result in a wealth gap that will take more than 100 years to close if nothing changes.28
Similar discouraging gaps are clearly evident for some ethnicities of American Asian and Pacific Islander and nonwhite Latinx students.29 And for Native American students, some of these gaps are even more troubling, as this group experiences stark gaps in achievement—the lowest graduation rates, the highest dropout rates, and troubling disparities in school discipline. Even worse, Native American young people experience a higher rate of suicide than any racial group in America.30 Schools operated by the federal Bureau of Indian Education are in unconscionable levels of disrepair. A 2016 report from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General documented “major facility deficiencies and health and safety concerns,” with structural concerns in 12 of the 13 visited schools, as well as five condemned buildings.31 These challenges exist against the backdrop of Native American students being descendants of genocide and having their native language and culture stripped away by government policy over centuries.
The current presidential administration’s attempts to eliminate tools put in place to disrupt deeply entrenched and persistent disparities in educational attainment offer additional evidence of the ongoing barriers placed in front of nonwhite American students.32 The data make clear how historic and systemic inequities in educational opportunity have created a debt that must be paid.33 And institutions of higher education are already taking the lead to make amends for past atrocities.34 For these reasons, a new administration must begin with a comprehensive strategy for addressing disparities in educational opportunity.
While some of these efforts will inherently benefit public school students of all races and incomes, creating policies targeted exclusively at repairing the ongoing harm to nonwhite students in America can also result in unrealized economic prosperity and mobility. Broad access to quality schools and greater educational opportunities, coupled with a comprehensive economic development strategy beyond the educational system, would unlock talent currently not realized within underserved communities.
A new administration can take a number of specific actions to increase opportunity and to focus explicitly on racial equity. These include establishing a mechanism for filling the annual $23 billion gap in funding between predominantly white and predominantly nonwhite school districts;35 identifying and distributing $200 billion for school infrastructure to update crumbling and outdated school buildings;36 establishing a grant program to improve teacher preparation, recruitment, and ongoing professional development that fully incorporates culturally responsive pedagogy and acknowledges the new majority in public schools across America;37 and issuing guidance through the U.S. Department of Education to implement the Powell exception in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, which calls for the elimination of property tax-based school financing models that privilege wealthy and mostly white districts over predominantly nonwhite districts.38 In addition, a new administration can incentivize state education agencies to conduct deep racial equity audits, implement strategies to promptly address disparate racial impacts resulting from gaps in educational opportunity, and make transparent a framework for applying a race equity lens to future policy and programming decisions.
There is no doubt that the world of work is changing. Not only are many jobs of tomorrow radically different from the jobs of yesterday, but Americans can also expect to hold more jobs over the course of their careers, moving from job to job and even sector to sector with much more frequency.39 As a result, it is more important than ever for the education system to provide every child with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in a wide range of occupations.
Unfortunately, despite increases over the past decade, 15 percent of high school students who began high school in 2013 did not graduate within four years. Those numbers rise to 22 percent for Black students, 20 percent for Latinx students, and 22 percent for students from families with low incomes.40 With few good jobs available for individuals without a high school diploma, these young adults can expect to earn only $27,040 a year, compared with $60,996 for college graduates.41 Even for those students who do graduate from high school, earning a high school diploma does not necessarily mean that they are truly prepared for either postsecondary education or the workforce.
Improvements in the rigor and quality of states’ academic standards over the past decade have been an important step. But these improvements have not yet fully translated to high school graduation requirements. Prior CAP research found that only four states have high school diploma requirements that are fully aligned with the entrance requirements for their four-year state institutions of higher education. And only two of those states require a rigorous, 15-credit college ready curriculum, which includes four years of English, three years of math up to algebra II, three years of laboratory science, three years of social studies, and two years of the same foreign language.42
Career-readiness is even less of a focus: Only one state—Delaware—requires all students to complete a three-credit career and technical education pathway to earn a regular high school diploma. And only 8 percent of high school graduates take a college- and career-ready curriculum that includes both components.43 Research is clear that this preparation is critically important: Students that have both academic and workforce credentials are more likely to be employed and to have higher wages than other students, even when they do not go to college.44 New research from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis found that after California school districts implemented career pathway programs, dropout rates in those districts declined by 23 percent.45
Too many students—particularly Black, Latinx, and Native American students, as well as students from families with low incomes—have limited access to advanced courses and dual enrollment opportunities.46 Even before students arrive in high school, opportunity gaps at the elementary and middle-school level mean that white fourth grade students are more than twice as likely as Black fourth grade students to be performing at grade level in math and reading.47 And for all students, the average student-to-counselor ratio is 482-to-1—nearly double the recommended ratio of 250-to-1—making it nearly impossible for students to get the additional guidance they need.48 With these barriers across the K-12 continuum, it is no wonder that only 56 percent of students from the lowest quintile of socio-economic status enroll in college.49 Among Pell Grant recipients, who are college students from families with low and moderate incomes, 55 percent require remedial coursework when they do enroll,50 and only 49 percent actually graduate from college.51
A new federal-state-industry partnership would identify school models that provide both of these opportunities to all students and would bring these models to scale regionally and within states. To ensure that all students have access to new opportunities in high school, these models should focus heavily on the middle grades. This partnership would require states and industry partners to ensure that career and technical education programs reflect upcoming, well-paid, in-demand jobs in their region and that they address structural inequities to increase access to programs for students in the state who have historically been underserved and subsequently locked out of high-paying jobs. Building on their state’s college- and career-ready academic content standards, participating school districts could establish a K-12 ladder of course content supporting preparation for careers in the new economy. Districts would also strengthen family engagement and educator professional development, building awareness about the requirements for the future of work as early as kindergarten.
No education reform effort can be successful without teachers. Great teaching is at the core of all efforts to improve students’ learning and has the greatest impact for students who, due to poverty and structural racism, are the most likely to come to school already behind their peers academically—namely, nonwhite students and students from families with low incomes.52
Yet despite what is known about the importance of excellent teaching, the teaching profession has for too long been an afterthought. Teachers are underpaid and undervalued. Currently, too many teachers must learn on the job, sometimes without much support. Not by chance, the students who get the least experienced and least qualified teachers are most often nonwhite or from families with low incomes, worsening already existing inequities in these students’ access to a quality education.53
It does not have to be this way. In other careers, such as medicine and law, high expectations and selective and intensive training work together to create a profession that is highly respected and highly compensated. As has been true in other fields, unions should and must be a component of efforts to modernize the profession, particularly since research suggests that their negotiating power may be associated with not only higher salaries but also reduced teacher turnover and boosted student achievement.54
Unfortunately, teachers are notoriously underpaid.55 As the recent teacher strikes and walkouts brought to light, public school teachers make less than other comparable professionals in every state; in 2018, they earned 13.1 percent less on average, when accounting for nonwage benefits.56 Given their low wages, teachers are about 30 percent more likely than nonteachers to work a second job, and in many states, teachers earn so little that they qualify for public benefits.57 Compounding the problem, many teachers have to spend their own money on classroom supplies because public dollars fall short. For example, in the 2014-15 school year, 94 percent of teachers paid out of pocket for classroom supplies, with the average public school teacher spending $479.58
Moreover, the teaching profession is not highly selective, nor is it doing enough to recruit more diversity to the field.59 Compared with the United States, other countries with higher-performing educational systems tend to have more rigorous selection processes for admission into teacher preparation programs.60 In many states, the percentage of nonwhite students still substantially outnumbers the percentage of nonwhite teachers—and nonwhite teachers have low retention rates across the country.61
And yet, in recent years, expectations for teachers have risen. The job now requires getting all students—not just a small percentage, as was the status quo a generation ago—ready for college and career, which means that students need to meet challenging standards each year.62 In addition, expectations for how teachers serve their students have rightly been raised; they are expected to differentiate and adjust instruction for English language learners, special education students, and students who are behind or above grade level.63 The nation has underinvested in anti-poverty programs and put its faith in education as the “great equalizer,”64 which means that teachers are being asked to bear a significant portion of the responsibility to meet students’ basic needs, respond to trauma, and provide social and emotional learning.65
All of this is not lost on young people or their parents. For the first time, a majority of parents say that they do not want their kids to become teachers.66 Likewise, fewer high school students report that they are interested in teaching careers,67 and enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down by more than 30 percent since 2012.68
If states and school districts raised teacher pay to match that of other professions, provided training to help teachers meet the needs of the changing student population, and increased the selectivity of the teaching profession, the national narrative about and respect for the teaching profession would shift. A comprehensive policy agenda to achieve this goal should be multifaceted and must ensure that teachers are given the necessary training and resources to meet a higher bar. Components of such an agenda should include efforts to be more purposeful about candidates accepted into teacher preparation programs, with an explicit emphasis on diversifying the teaching profession; improving teacher preparation programs to provide them with high-quality clinical training experience and more rigorous coursework designed to prepare them for modern classrooms; aligning requirements for licensure with candidates’ observable readiness to teach beyond multiple-choice exams; investing in supports for new teachers, such as high-quality induction and mentorship programs; providing dedicated time and support for meaningful professional development that improves student outcomes; and defining career pathways that give excellent teachers the opportunity to expand their effectiveness.
Following the Great Recession in 2008, most states responded to revenue drops by making large cuts to their education budgets.69 Schools depend on state funding for almost half of their revenue, but by 2015, only a handful of states had returned to pre-recession levels of spending.70 Today, that number is increasing, but nearly half of states are still below pre-recession levels.71 Some states even chose to cut taxes after the recession, which exacerbated budget constraints by reducing revenues even as the economy rebounded.72
Research shows that money matters in education. Student scores on the NAEP are correlated with cumulative per-pupil spending.73 Problems such as poor air quality and uncomfortable temperatures in schools can have negative effects on student learning74; a study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology even found that building conditions predicted academic outcomes.75 Still, more than half of U.S. public schools currently need repairs.76
Funding affects every aspect of an excellent, well-rounded education. More money means available funds for smaller class sizes,77 more rigorous course offerings,78 and additional support staff, such as mental health professionals,79 all of which have important consequences for student success and well-being. And these school features are especially important for students living in areas of concentrated poverty who may need additional support. For example, class size reduction typically has the largest positive effects for students who are Black or from families with low incomes.80
Unfortunately, there are both racial and socio-economic disparities in investment and opportunities. Despite serving the same number of students, school districts where more than 75 percent of students are nonwhite receive $23 billion less than districts where more than 75 percent of students are white.81 Reinvesting in schools continually results in more positive outcomes for disadvantaged students. Between 1990 and 2011, states that passed more equitable school finance reforms saw decreased gaps in NAEP scores between low-income and wealthier districts.82
Federal investment in education currently covers approximately 8 percent of public school revenues, and the amount of funding provided has not kept up with inflation over the past decade.83 Title I funds are not enough to create equity across districts or states,84 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) remains underfunded.85 But with states and districts facing extreme inequities in funding—inequities that hurt the students who need education investment the most—it is time for progressives to fight for the funding that schools and students deserve.
Title I is the primary federal funding source for schools and school districts with high percentages of students from families with low-incomes.86 Years of political compromises and tweaking of the formula, however, have left funding for the program inequitable, underfunded, and too widely dispersed to make a meaningful difference in the schools it is designed to serve.87 Increasing Title I funding should be a priority, but a new administration should go further by creating new public education opportunity grants. To inform this approach, the federal government should appoint a commission to determine a specific set of critical education resources that are typically present in privileged communities but missing from historically disadvantaged schools and districts. These resources could include guidance counselors, school nurses, mental health professionals, art and music classes, or extracurricular enrichment opportunities—which would become available to all U.S. schools through the grants.
In exchange for new federal funding, states would need to ensure that districts serving high percentages of students from families with low incomes are providing the resources determined necessary by the aforementioned commission. States would also need to make changes to support these district efforts, such as adjusting state funding formulas to be more equitable.
Charter schools have long been a contentious issue among progressives, and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’ intense focus on expanding both private school vouchers and charters has likely increased that tension. Yet high-quality charter schools have been a critical strategy to increase opportunity and create more good seats for students. At the same time, some of the critiques of the charter sector do have merit. CAP has long argued that there is a progressive case for charters focused on growing and learning from successful models while addressing gaps in charter policy, such as the many problems with for-profit, virtual charter schools.88
There are currently slightly more than 7,000 charter schools across 44 states and Washington, D.C., that educate more than 3 million students, or 6 percent of public school enrollment.89 While the charter sector serves a small percentage of students nationwide, in some of the nation’s largest cities, it serves far more: from between 10 and 20 percent in New York, Chicago, Miami, and Houston to between 30 and 60 percent in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. This growth has not been without controversy and opposition. Critiques include concerns about charters’ impact on traditional districts (for example, contributions to school closings, segregation, and budget cuts); resistance to supporting organized labor; gaps in charter policy that limit transparency and allow profit-seeking; lack of support for community-led models in favor of schools managed by larger entities responsible for multiple replicated schools; and claims of privatizing public education.
A review of charter school research reveals that many studies have found both negative and positive effects on student outcomes.90 Most, like a recent federal study on the long-term impacts of attending charter middle schools, find no effect.91 These mixed results are also driven by marked variability in the success of charter schools.92 Charter schools in rural or suburban areas typically have slightly negative effects, while charter schools in urban areas—especially those serving students of color and students from families with low incomes—tend to be more successful.93
In successful charter schools, there are significant effects on both short-term student outcomes—such as test scores94—and long-term outcomes, including graduation, college enrollment, and college persistence.95 And the effects can be especially pronounced for historically underserved students. In Boston, for example, a study found that one year in a charter school erases a third of the racial achievement gap.96
Research into charter schools’ effects on the finances and operations of traditional school districts highlights that charters have a short-term negative impact on economies of scale in districts, while over the medium term, they can lead to improvements in efficiency in district schools.97 One study of the effects of charter schools in New York City even showed that students at traditional district schools experienced the strongest positive achievement effects when a charter school was co-located in a building with the district school.98
In too many places across the country, there are not enough good seats in schools, especially for Black, Latinx, and Native American students, as well as students from families with low incomes. A strong charter sector is a critical component to expanding the number of good public school seats, and high-quality charter schools are a valuable strategy to address that problem. But the growth of charter schools should not be an end in itself. A new administration should take a nuanced approach to charters that includes both the expansion of good school options and the coordination across the traditional district and charter sectors to avoid potentially negative impacts. This approach should include three key components. First, it should include strong authorizing and accountability policies for charter schools as well as efforts to proactively address the shortfalls of the sector. These efforts should include solutions for pain points, such as issues related to backfilling enrollment during the school year, providing service to students with disabilities, and maintaining transparency in financial operations—to name a few.
Second, the approach should apply a race equity lens to public school choice policies generally and charter schools specifically, with a focus on equitably expanding access to opportunities for underserved students. This means that decisions on where to locate schools and programs and how to make enrollment decisions—for example, boundaries, admissions requirements, and lottery rules—should be analyzed with a race equity lens.
Third, this approach should include a balanced assessment of potential charter growth and the impact on traditional districts. This assessment should always focus on how to increase the number of good seats for students but may imply different specific recommendations in different places and circumstances.
The current U.S. K-12 educational system should be an engine of opportunity that creates pathways to college, family-sustaining jobs, and the middle class for every student. While this is true for some, it is far from true for all. If America is ever to have a public school system that provides equitable access to these opportunities, everyone—parents, educators, policymakers, researchers, and advocates—must wrestle with hard truths. Making progress toward the goal of shared prosperity means looking at policies very explicitly through the lens of race and income equity. This work is critical to breaking down systematic, structural, and institutional barriers to opportunity.
Future presidential administrations must have a clear vision for policies that will benefit all Americans and provide pathways to opportunities. Certainly, addressing the needs of the current workforce is important, but national leaders must also consider the more than 50 million students in public schools who want to go to college or get a good job after they leave the K-12 system. It is time for a clear, robust K-12 education platform that applies an explicit race equity lens to all policies, prepares students for college and the future workforce, modernizes and elevates the teaching profession, dramatically increases the nation’s investment in education, and takes a balanced approach to opening and supporting charter schools to provide more good choices for families. Leaders at every level should focus on these priorities in order to enhance the quality of education for every single public school student.
Online education has gained immense popularity among working professionals and students pursuing higher education. These categories of online learners find immense benefit in the autonomy and flexibility that these courses offer. Online courses can be planned around their schedule which may include full-time employment, internships and caring for family. Online learning can also help them take out some quiet time to study.
Distance learning has been around for a long time, even before technology made it extremely accessible. Traditional schooling is now seeing an increased proliferation of virtual training materials and online courses. Even in a world of tried and tested schooling systems and curricula, the most successful schools are the ones who adapt to the changing times, as well as to the expectations of students, parents and the society. If online education is here to stay, then what are its implications for traditional learning? Instead of focusing on pros and cons, the conversation we should be having today is about leveraging online education to make our education systems more conducive to learning.
Online courses call for a greater amount motivation and self-discipline than a classroom-based course. A classroom has one or more instructors and peers, who can hold a student accountable for their course-work. In contrast, online courses involve setting our own goals, tracking progress and meeting deadlines. One does not learn effectively in isolation so online courses do offer discussion forums, email and one-on-one support. Technology also adds on to the visual experience by incorporating animations that can be used interactively for effective learning and communication.
The classroom advantage
A school provides structure, support, and a system of rewards and penalties to groom its students. Traditional classroom education offers the benefit of face-to-face interactions with peers which are typically moderated by a teacher. It provides children, especially those in their early developmental years, with a stable environment for social interactions, helping them develop skills like boundary setting, empathy and cooperation. It also allows plenty of room for spontaneity, unlike a virtual learning setup.
Online education in the context of schooling
As students progress to higher classes in school, they seek more autonomy and intellectual freedom. Online learning can help them pursue highly individualised learning programmes, possibly even college level courses. These, combined with hands-on exercises, real world exploration, and thorough assessments, can be highly beneficial to their learning progress. They can explore their options by trying out introductory topics from different fields, before committing to a specialisation. Online learning platforms can help these students become more independent learners, before they make their way into college. I believe that we must not hold back students from pursuing an online course but instead provide them guidance as they navigate through it.
Mobile apps that provide enhanced learning opportunities for school children have become quite popular as of late. Since mobile phones have already found their way into their hands, these apps are being used to supplement classroom learning. Teachers and parents need to act as anchors and mentors, curating the kind of educational content students are exposed to, during this tricky phase of exploring the right career to pursue.
Virtual public schools, that offer full fledged K-12 education have already sprung up in some parts of the world. They even offer a combination of the traditional system with online education. There are programmes that provide support to families that wish to home-school their children in the form of online course material. These programmes bring parents and teachers into the fold, by involving them in their child’s education from the get go. However, their effectiveness in the long term needs to be studied.
Online learning programmes will also open up opportunities for children from the weaker socio-economic communities who have limited access to learning resources i.e. teachers, text books and infrastructure. It will connect them to a global network of online learners, exposing them to new perspectives. The ideas that they receive will not be limited by the number of heads in one classroom.
Online education for educators
Online education can also be designed to accommodate a variety of learning styles among students. As educators, it is likely that we will have to put in additional efforts to incorporate online learning programmes into the curriculum in the most suitable manner.
Online training programmes are helping teachers/educators advance their skills in curriculum implementation, policy, education systems and leadership, both independently and with the support of their institutions. It lets them collaborate with their peers and learn new instructional skills that are relevant to their careers. These programmes can help them develop new skills and capabilities in their students with the help of technology and interdisciplinary approaches.
As the overlap of the traditional and online modes of education is becoming more and more inevitable, we owe it to our students to make their education relevant to their future through ingenuity, passion and careful planning.
COVID-19 has upended many areas of our lives, not the least of which is education. Due to the pandemic and worldwide shutdown, transitioning to distance education at lightning speed became a necessity. More than 1.5 billion students, or 91.3% of global enrollments, were directly affected by school closures at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in early April.1 With so many students suddenly out of classrooms, school administrators, teachers, and parents scrambled to meet students’ educational needs with online learning.2 It is no longer a question of when we will migrate from in-person classrooms to distance education. It’s now a question of how well we can quickly transition when the need arises.
The U.S. is particularly well-positioned to take advantage of the various e-learning options that are available.3 High-speed internet can be found in most U.S. regions, with the average internet speed more than twice that of the rest of the world.4 However, even in the U.S., access to distance learning is not uniform. Students of color, especially those in households with low incomes, are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to education and technology, and this was true before the pandemic.5
This has sparked a discussion among education professionals about the state and accessibility of distance education, the impact of COVID-19 on remote learning, and the role that educators and administrators play in providing students with an effective online educational experience.
Distance education is defined as a style of learning where teachers and students are physically separated, and different technologies are used so that they can communicate effectively.6 While originally focused on full-time employees and those in remote regions, it has become increasingly prevalent in other contexts.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, distance education was experiencing modest yet steady growth. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 34.7% of college students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2018, compared to 33.1% in 2017. That was less than the 2% increase from 2016 to 2017, but it was still an upward trend.7
On the technology side, global educational technology (EdTech) investments reached nearly $18.7 billion in 2019.8 EdTech is vital for distance education for a number of reasons. It helps to deliver personalized education so that students can learn at their own pace and skill level. It democratizes access to education around the world, eliminating barriers to learning and reducing costs. Sophisticated EdTech software can attract students and keep them engaged. Digital educational resources create a continuous learning experience outside of the classroom and data analytics enable adaptive learning where data is fed back into the system to influence learning programs and fill knowledge gaps. Maintaining a high level of innovation improves the efficiency of our educational system.9
The global online education market is projected to reach $350 billion by 2025.10 Behind these strong numbers, however, is the human story of blending new technologies and learning methods to improve online education. How seamless is the transition between in-person classrooms and online education? Prior to the pandemic, a survey of online learning administrators indicated that 70% allowed students to take a virtual class without any type of online orientation.11 And although many of the teachers were trained prior to conducting online classes, nearly one-third lacked any kind of teaching, learning, and technology (TLT) center for support.12
As the numbers suggest, most higher education institutions were unprepared to switch to virtual instruction when COVID-19 shut down their campuses. As a result, many colleges opted for low-tech solutions, such as Zoom video conferencing and other third-party communication tools, to finish the term. This pieced-together approach may have given students and faculty the impression that distance education is chaotic and difficult. With thoughtfully designed, integrated platforms and comprehensive training, however, that doesn’t have to be the case.12
The arrival of COVID-19 has changed distance learning from an attractive option to a necessity—at least for the short term. In the U.S., when the virus spread in March, most schools closed through the spring term. While a handful of states allowed in-person classes for the summer and some have plans to reopen in the fall, medical experts are urging caution as uncertainty rises. Many schools will be using staggered schedules and hybrid programs of in-person and remote classes to adhere to social-distancing guidelines.13
COVID-19 has brought distance learning to a much wider audience. As a result, schools have had to create or fast-track online education plans to get teachers and students on board with the latest technology as quickly as possible. A collection of software applications and platforms to facilitate online education was already in place, though further improvement is needed to make these tools easier to learn and use.14
In the spring of 2020, the Education Week Research Center surveyed K-12 educators nationwide, asking how the coronavirus school closures have influenced the role and use of technology in K-12 education. More than eight in 10 teachers believed that their ability to use the technology improved, and that this made them better, more innovative educators. They reported becoming more tech-savvy in using EdTech, and some planned to continue using the new tools when their buildings reopened. Most were doing at least some instruction online and half were exclusively online.15
The survey also highlighted the disparity between students in higher-income and lower-income households. The number of fully online classes was significantly higher (68%) in districts with fewer low-income students, and lower (36%) in schools with more low-income students. Providing computers to disadvantaged students was only a temporary solution to the larger problem of limited access to computers and high-speed internet services.16
The pandemic may well accelerate growth in EdTech development and the entire online learning industry. At the same time, the sudden mainstream popularity of distance learning, borne of necessity, has uncovered large systemic problems, such as the growing digital divide and lack of resources for some students.15
Educators will play a key role in the immediate future, not just in helping students adjust to the technological demands of distance learning, but in acting as advocates for expanding online learning opportunities to reach more students.
While web technology and the growing EdTech industry have greatly improved e-learning, they have only benefited those who have access to broadband internet service and a computer. The COVID-19 shutdown has highlighted and exacerbated the existing digital divide throughout the world. According to UNESCO, half of all students who were deprived of in-person classes due to the pandemic do not have computer access. More than 40 percent are without internet access in their homes.5
In the United States, the digital divide uncovers existing racial disparities and socioeconomic inequalities. Prior to the pandemic, 15 percent of school-age children lived in homes that didn’t have high-speed internet access. This percentage was significantly higher for Black and Hispanic households (25 percent and 23 percent, respectively) and was especially true for families with low incomes.6 This digital divide is often known as the “homework gap,” because the lack of internet at home makes it extremely difficult to complete homework assignments.6 Lack of high-speed internet access is also a serious problem for those who live in rural communities.16
Libraries, schools, and businesses have tried to step up to provide internet access to disadvantaged students and others who are at risk of falling through the cracks during the coronavirus emergency.17 Since April, state legislatures across the U.S. have introduced more than 40 bills to expand broadband access.18 California legislators announced a state Department of Education task force to organize donations from corporations and individuals to help supply students with the necessary equipment and service to facilitate distance learning.19
In Maine, lawmakers passed a bill that sets aside $15 million to expand the state’s broadband internet service, to help make online access accessible and affordable, while providing the necessary equipment to residents who need it.20 In Detroit, where only 15% of households in public school districts have internet access, the director of digital inclusion handles offers from private-sector companies that want to donate resources.20
Local action has led to a push at the federal level. Back in January, before the pandemic took hold, the U.S. House of Representatives held the first-ever hearing about digital equity, called “Empowering and Connecting Communities through Digital Equity and Internet Adoption.” They proposed the idea of treating broadband internet as a public utility.20 More recently, the National Education Association (NEA) has been pushing Congress to address the digital divide in its next COVID-19 legislative package. The Emergency Education Connections Act (H.R. 6563)21 would earmark $2 billion for a special fund that would help get students equipped to learn online during the COVID-19 pandemic.22
In addition to supporting students in the classroom, today’s education leaders must be advocates, fighting to bridge the gap between the digital “haves” and “have nots” so that all students, from kindergarten through college, have equal access to education that can further their career prospects and improve their lives.
K-12 and higher education will never be the same again. On the immediate horizon, educators are anticipating an “education loss” among students who were not able to make the classroom-to-online transition successfully. The disparity in access to high-speed internet, home computers, and direct instruction has created a significant number of students who will be far behind their peers this fall. Research has shown that these students, from lower-income households and in rural areas, may have lost as much as a year of education due to COVID-19.23
The threat of future pandemics and economic disturbances highlights the need for robust distance education, both to prepare for the next global health emergency and to bridge the longstanding socioeconomic educational gap. Education professionals will play a key role in advocating for improved access to online learning.
Challenging times can bring great opportunity. With a worldwide focus on distance learning, this important educational model will continue to improve, becoming more efficient and less daunting as the landscape changes. The future will likely include a hybrid education model that blends in-person classes with remote learning for a more flexible experience. This new face of education will require visionary professionals to lead the way.
K-12 education changed overnight, thanks to Covid-19. “Homeschool” went from outlier term to common experience for many young learners. Millions of others shifted to class at home, via computer software, video lecture, or app, and states wielded data to track attendance and performance of students at public schools.
But for all its suddenness, Covid-19 only accelerated trends that were already building in K-12 education. Even before 2020, teachers were overwhelmed, burned out, and—as of 2018—in perilously short supply. Education software was short-sighted, attempting to retrofit digital technology onto analogue learning styles, and failing to build for the wide range of ways children use—or are distracted by—technology. And K-12 education was no longer seen as a secure ladder to a 4-year college degree and a job, thanks to the crumbling one-size-fits-all higher education myth.
Together, the trends of the 2010s and the effects of Covid-19 have accumulated to an inflection point in K-12 education—one that will determine the wellbeing of students for years to come.
Today, depression and anxiety are skyrocketing among young people. And schools—struggling with teacher retention, remote educational tools, and academic relevance—are increasingly relied on as the first, or only, source of mental health support for young learners.
What are the implications of this inflection point?
When considering the Future of K-12 Education, here are six themes we are digging into:
What follows are three of our own explorations into how a reimagining of education could change the future of learning. Here’s what K-12 might look like.
A human-machine teaching model unbundles education into its two primary capabilities:
With human-machine teaching, artificial intelligence (AI) handles the objective artifacts and knowledge “stuff” of education—things like creating syllabi, building curriculum, and setting proficiency bands. As objective sources of knowledge, the AI is the source of facts, resources, and tests, and can assess the accuracy of student work and track proficiency over time based on academic performance.
Human teachers (now called “Social-Emotional Learning (or SEL) Coaches”) balance the facts and figures of the machines, while mentoring students in the nuanced landscape of critical thinking and social and emotional learning. From the knowledge stack the student is building with AI, the SEL Coach focuses on interpretation, reflection, and application, working with the student toward developing autonomy and healthy collaborative relationships.
The “teachers” of the past will now be freed to move fully into coaching roles, supporting a student’s journey in a deep and long-lasting way. This shift allows students to receive the dual benefits of streamlined, instant education from AI and the transformative influence of a dedicated mentor with which to build a holistic education journey.
As physical location becomes less relevant to education, centers of learning adjust how they attract students, create cohorts, and distinguish themselves from others.
In the learning hub model, schools are organized around key resources or speciality subject areas rather than by location. With hybrid learning options, students can attend from anywhere in the world. Physical campuses are reimagined based on the speciality of a school: an old swimming pool becomes a school for marine biology; a formerly closed library becomes a school of literature.
Whether physical or digital, the “cohorts” at K-12 learning hubs are based on interest, learning style, and proficiency, rather than age and location. Hubs can be selected based on speciality and assessed as often as needed in a student’s pursuit of comprehensive education.
Students have the opportunity to interact with and learn from a wide range of perspectives and talent, gaining a deep appreciation for diversity of background and life experience. As the student moves between learning hubs, they will benefit from brief, intensive collaboration with others—and build a global network of peers and mentors as they go.
Imagine an AI portfolio in the cloud that a student carries with them into every new education center along the way—and eventually college and job applications.
The portfolio begins as a simple AI framework: the student uploads projects they are proud of, whether from school or extracurriculars. The AI visualizes patterns in the work, pulling out key indicators of growth, which evolve with each new uploaded piece of data.
Unlike a report card or LinkedIn profile using only metrics (grades or awards), the Living Portfolio assesses key aptitudes such as autonomy, self-mastery, sociability, growth, curiosity, and craft.
With each new addition, the AI looks for evidence that the student has tried something new, or has built on and deepened existing knowledge. It will also be looking for patterns in what type of projects the student is proud of and interested in to forecast future interests, successes, and aptitudes.
Eventually, the AI can generate “trend reports” for the student (and their SEL Coach) based on growth patterns. And the student can use the Living Portfolio to inform education and career moves based on an extensive analysis of their unique interests and competitive advantage.
From our vantage point in 2020, we are seeing a need—and an opportunity—for education to adapt to young people’s learning needs and desires, well before college. The future of K-12 education will rely on specialized cohorts and collaborative learning, rather than geographic location. It will prioritize social and emotional learning as a core feature of education. And it will understand data as a tool to shape a rich, unique learning path for every student. By providing models for students to acquire skills and develop autonomy, empathy, and adaptability, we can help shape a Future of Education that truly serves the young people of today.
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The implementation of K-12 curriculum in the country drew negative reactions from various societal groups. Since 2011, critics have been very vocal on their primary concerns. They insist the government isn’t yet ready for this new system and that this is more of additional burden to students and their parents.
Despite calls to suspend the program, the government remained firm saying this new educational system offers opportunities for Filipino students and the national economy.
For its part, the Department of Education (DepEd) stresses that the country is prepared for a big shift in education system. In fact, it has worked to fulfill the gaps on the number of classrooms, teachers, and textbooks. Also, it has finished the planning phases along with stakeholders.
But what does K-12 scheme really has to offer to students?
To prove that K-12 system is more than just adding two more years to high school, below are three of the many practical benefits of schooling under a 13-year education cycle:
The government believes that K to 12 curriculum in the Philippines will put Filipino students at par with the rest of the world. Truly, investing in education is the key toward reaching national growth and development.
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There is undeniably a challenge that teachers are facing as more young students drop out of high school without graduating. As parents, educators, employers or even students, it is very important to understand what an education can do for an individual. Keep reading to learn more abut the benefits of K12 education.
School is a major agent of socialization. Young children are first introduced to the socialization process by their close family and quickly move to a broader circle thanks to school. The educators function as role models and as authority figures while other students become peers. Without the positive influence of the educational institution, an individual would encounter difficulties along their socialization process. Someone who does not go through a successful socialization process might have a hard time fitting in at work and in society later in life. High school is a very important part of this process as students get older and start forming social cliques. Missing out in this process increases the risks of falling through the cracks of society.
School teaches students to recognize authority figures. A student who respects their teacher and other educators at school will easily adapt in the workplace and in other aspects of adult life. A young person who does not have this type of structure in their lives is more likely to be disrespectful of the law or unable to follow guidelines at work. These basic skills are absolutely necessary in order to become successful as a working adult or even to form a healthy household.
Basic skills such as reading or writing are some of the main benefits of K12 education. Students who drop out of high school often do not fully master these skills. Educators are facing a real challenge with getting their students up to a decent level in these areas. Reading and writing are skills that are much harder to acquire as an adult. Not being able to read and write makes simple things we do every day a lot harder than they should be. Adults who do not master these skills usually have to go through the process of learning how to read and write before they can find a good job.
Acquiring basic math skills is another benefit of getting a good education. These basic skills are not always fully mastered by students who choose to drop out and can keep them from managing a budget for their household later in life. Someone with an high school education should be able to balance their budget, look for the best prices when shopping, figure out what the best paying job is or fill out their taxes properly. These things can seem very simple to someone who has a good grasp over these skills but things become much more complicated for students who did not receive a solid education in this area.
General knowledge is another priceless one can get from an education. The knowledge of history, geography, science or literature can greatly enrich one’s life. There is no material way to measure the value of this type of knowledge but someone who learns these things will probably feel more fulfilled and want to keep learning new things throughout their entire life. Someone who does not acquire this desire for learning and general knowledge will probably never discover the richness of other lifestyles and cultures.
A school offers a lot more than knowledge. For instance, some schools give students the possibility to see counselors. Talking to a caring adult who can offer practical solutions can greatly help a young students make the right decision. A career counselor can for instance help a student find the ideal career and take all the steps toward getting their dream job. Someone who drops out of school will probably end up taking the first job they can find and might not find fulfillment in their career. Getting a K12 education opens new doors, including the possibility to go to college. Getting a college degree significantly increases one’s chance of finding a higher paying job. Students will get the opportunity to build a network, acquire more skills and find a career they really love. Not completing high school means not getting access to all these great opportunities.
Obtaining a high school diploma will make a real difference on the job market. An employer will be more likely to hire someone who completed high school regardless of the job one goes after. Employers usually assume that someone who completed high school has some basic skills necessary for the job, can communicate, get along with others and do what they are supposed to. A candidate who cannot say they completed high school will have less chances of getting a good job because employers will assume there is a negative reason behind them dropping out of school, such as not being able to commit to anything, socialize with others or show respect toward authority figures.
It is never too late to get a K12 education. There are many programs designed to help adults or students who dropped out graduate from high school. Getting an equivalency diploma can help one get a better job or even go to college. There are plenty of programs that offer nigh classes for adult education and a student can actually graduate in six months. The schedules are designed to allow adults who have jobs attend classes. Taking online classes is another good option for someone who needs a more flexible schedule or cannot drive to an adult education center.
In the end, there are many benefits of K12 education, including basic skills such as being able to read, write, count, communicate and interact with others. Getting a high school education can help one find a good job, adapt in the workplace, become a stable adult and raise a family. As a parent or educator, it is your role to do your best to help young students understand the importance of what they do in school.